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StaffRobert HeinyDepictions of Learning in Literature

Depictions of Learning in Literature


Depictions of Learning in Arts and Literature

Definition of Learning in Arts and Literature:

For eons, artists, clowns (and other entertainers), song writers, story tellers, troubadors, and writers have depicted how people learn. Sometimes they describe learning from the view of the learner. Other times they use a different view.

At the core of their descriptions, they say to what people attend and subsequently use or ignore, such as to what learners see, hear, feel, etc., calculate risks, engage in trials-and-errors, and complete sequences of behavior patterns to solve problems. These constitute generic (or elemental) behavior patterns that behavioral scientists describe as observable ways people learn. Here’s a sample of these depictions.

Artists Depict Learning

(Insert examples here.)

Writers, Humorists, and other Story Tellers Depict Learning

Writers, humorists (comedians, if you prefer), and other story tellers depict how people learn as central to their narrative. They describe behavior patterns that include motivation to learn, trial-and-error learning, one-step learning, and ways to assemble clues into sequences that solve problems, real or imagined.

Learning as Viewed by Learners

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the esential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, … (Thoreau, H. (1854).

I am too old to learn (Shakespeare. King Lear II.ii.).

I’m a trained hypnotist. Years ago I took a class to learn how to hypnotize people. As a byproduct of this training I learned that people are mindless, irrational, easily manipulated dolts. (I think I paid $500 to learn that.) … The class fundamentally changed the way I look at the world. … I see the world as a massively absurd endeavor, populated by people who struggle every minute to rationalize the silly things they do. … We’re a planet of nearly six billion ninnies living in a civilization that was designed by a few thousand amazingly smart deviants (Adams, 1996, p. 4-9).

Learn to Survive or Die

He had failed to learn what those who live must learn – that the instant of deliberation before the trigger is pulled is often the only difference between life and death. (L’Amour, L. 1992, p. 244)

Once more we had met with fear and come out a little stronger, a little more tightly knit (L’Amour, 1979, p. 38).

Attend to Learn

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere. (Longfellow, H., 1860)

When I was a little bitty boy
Sittin’ on my papa’s knee
I still remember every word my papa said to me
Now boy if you ever meet
A pretty woman walking down the street

You’d better
Stop real still, look both ways
Listen or you’ll get in trouble (Byers, J., 19??)

A school is wherever a man can learn, Mr. Shafter, do not forget that. A man can learn from these mountains and the trees, he can learn by listening, by seeing, and by hearing the talk of other men and thinking about what they say (L’Amour, 1979, p. 26).

Prioritize What to Learn

And learn, O voyager to walk
The roll of the earth, the pitch and fall … (MacLeish, 1970, p. 1035).

There are only two lasting bequests we can give our children – one is roots. The other, wings (McKenna, 1978, p. vi).

Trial-and-Error Preceeds Learning

Hopalong stepped back and kicked the door at the lock. It did not budge. He kicked it again, and swore as he barked his shin on the bar. Cooly he walked back to the yard and picked up an ax. Two well-directed blows and the door flew open. (L’Amour, 1992, p. 113)

Learning Occurs in One-Step

You should have filed the shine off that buckle, kid, he said gently (to the man he shot). It makes much too good a mark (target). (L’Amour, L., 1992, p. 244) (Parentheses added.)

Calculate Risks to Survive

Only a fool takes chances. That isn’t bravery, not one bit. The good fightin’ man never takes a chance he can avoid. You have to take plenty you can’t help, an’ only a fool would go to gamblin’ with his life. (L’Amour, 1992, p. 131)

Be wary of the man who urges an action in which he himself incurs no risk. (Setanti, ????)

Complete Sequences to Demonstrate Learning Occurred


Adams, S. (1996). The Dilbert Principle: A Cubicle’s-Eye View of Bosses, Meetings, Management Fads & Other Workplace Afflictions. New York: Harper Business.

Byers, J. (19??). Stop, Look and Listen. (Lyrics and song performed by Elvis Presley.) http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/Stop-Look-and-Listen-lyrics-Elvis-Presley/9F4B7D28B8333C7F48256874003B364F

L’Amour, L. (1979). Bendigo Shafter. New York: Bantam.

L’Amour, L. (1992). The Rustlers of West Fork. Bantam: New York. (Previously published in 1951 as Hopalong Cassidy and the Rustlers of West Fork by Louis L’Amour writing as Tex Burns.)

Longfellow, H. (Written April 19, 1860; first published in 1863 as part of “Tales of a Wayside Inn”) http://www.nationalcenter.org/PaulRevere’sRide.html

MacLeish, A. (19??). Seafarer. In A. Eastman, et al. Eds, The Norton Anthology of Poetry. NY: Norton, p. 1035.

McKenna, M. (1978). A Family. St. Paul, MN: Carillon Books, p. vi.

Setianti, J. (????). Centellas.

Shakespeare, W. King Lear, II.ii.

Thoreau, H.D. (1854). Walden. Boston: Ticknor and Fields.

Robert Heiny
Robert Heinyhttp://www.robertheiny.com
Robert W. Heiny, Ph.D. is a retired professor, social scientist, and business partner with previous academic appointments as a public school classroom teacher, senior faculty, or senior research member, and administrator. Appointments included at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Peabody College and the Kennedy Center now of Vanderbilt University; and Brandeis University. Dr. Heiny also served as Director of the Montana Center on Disabilities. His peer reviewed contributions to education include publication in The Encyclopedia of Education (1971), and in professional journals and conferences. He served s an expert reviewer of proposals to USOE, and on a team that wrote plans for 12 state-wide and multistate special education and preschools programs. He currently writes user guides for educators and learners as well as columns for TuxReports.com.

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